5 Alternative Gift Wrapping Ideas For A Zero-Waste Holiday

December 12, 2022

The real balsam fir tree with a holly-red tree skirt on the bottom. Bright white lights and a star fixed on top. Dozens of presents tucked under, wrapped in shiny red paper and tied up with ribbons, bows, and strings. 

This is the iconic picture of Christmas. 

And yet, this picture that we see in Christmas movies, holiday cards, and billboards does not depict what happens after this picture-perfect day—an aftermath of recycling bins and garbage cans filled with 4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper, with only about half able to be recycled. 

Getting rid of wrapping paper doesn’t mean getting rid of the festive holiday spirit, however. Learn how to keep your holidays festive, bright and largely waste-free with these wrapping paper alternatives for the holiday season.

Can Wrapping Paper Be Recycled?

Before we go through the wrapping alternatives, let’s debunk one myth—not all wrapping paper can be recycled despite the word “paper” in its name. That’s because a significant portion of wrapping paper utilizes glitter, foil, velvet and plastic coatings that should not be recycled due to contamination.  If you do choose to purchase wrapping paper, opt for 100 percent paper products or products dyed in non-toxic vegetable oils.

When wrapping, remember that bows, ribbons, sticky tags, and glittery holiday cards also are non-recyclable, and should be disposed of in the trash so as not to cross-contaminate your recyclables.

Ready for some more eco-friendly options instead? Read on below.

1. Place Your Items in Pillowcases, Baskets And Other Home Staples 

When wrapping gifts sustainably, the first thing to do is to stop and assess what you already own and can reuse. Repurpose that basket in your basement to fill with goodies and treats for your significant other. Stuff that teddy bear inside a gently used pillowcase with a string wrapped around the top. Place those candies in a decorative mug or vase. Whatever is in your home, look around and feel inspired with just how creative you can be!

2. Upcycle Atlases, Old Books & Dictionaries

wall of books

One of my favorite ways to wrap Christmas presents is by upcycling paper products that are already in my house. I pull paper from old dictionaries, posters, and atlases, and glue them together until they’re the proper length and width needed to wrap a gift. 

Other upcyclable paper products include physical newspapers and magazines, which you can collect from friends and family or the local library. Rather than having those papers go to waste,  save them for the holiday season and wrap your presents in chic typographic paper. 

4. Invest in Reusable Drawstring Bags

Buying three or four reusable drawstring bags is an absolute must for keeping your holidays low-waste and sustainable. After buying my bags once, I’ve reused them for nearly every holiday—from Valentine’s Day to Christmas. When purchasing a reusable bag, opt for bags made of sustainable fabrics such as burlap, linen, cotton, hemp, or recycled textiles. 

3. Learn from the Japanese Art of Furoshiki 

girl holding wrapped gift

Furoshiki wrapping is an elegant and easy gift-wrapping technique originating in Japanese culture. Simply take a square of fabric (I like to use scarves and linen scraps!), and gently fold it around your gift, tying it at the top in a tasteful bow or knot. As you wrap your gifts, you can add a more meaningful element to the gift wrapping process by meditating on the recipient of the gift and thinking about what they mean to you. Once you’ve invested in several pieces of furoshiki, you can use these again and again!

5. Transform Your Grocery Bags Into Festive Holiday Paper

Even if you have reusable grocery bags, I guarantee almost every home has at least a few brown paper bags floating around from spontaneous shopping trips with no bags to be found. Rather than recycling those bags, turn them into a Christmas craft and a signature wrap by adding festive stamps for holiday packaging. 

Simply take a potato and cut it in half, carving each side with a unique holiday design (examples being trees, stars, Santa hats and more!). Once you’ve designed your one hundred percent compostable stamp, dip it in paint or dye and stamp it onto your flattened grocery bag for free and sustainable wrapping paper.  Not only is this the perfect Christmas craft to do with friends and family, but it can also be an opportunity to invite others to participate in a more sustainable holiday season.

BONUS: Don’t Wrap At All! (Scavenger Hunt Style)

Last, but certainly not least, one of the most creative ways my parents used to wrap my gifts when I was younger was by not wrapping them at all. My brother and I would each get a single piece of paper with a clue to begin the holiday scavenger hunt. Each clue would lead us to a spot in the home where we’d find a gift and another clue for the place of our next gift. Not only was this incredibly interactive, but it was also a holiday tradition I would never forget. 


Whether you’re scavenging for gifts or meditating with furoshiki, try one or all of these ways to decrease waste this holiday season!

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Photo: Dana Drosdick

Dana Drosdick
Dana is a marketer living in Saratoga Springs, NY with a passion for all things related to stewardship, faith, wellness, and personal enrichment. Her work has been featured in various Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, The Odyssey Online, and The Banner Magazine. Follow her at @danadrosdick on Instagram for foodie trends, her latest book recommendations, and far too many photos of clementines.


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